Sam's blog

55 hours of working in colour

Submitted by Sam on 13 December, 2012 - 01:04

Yesterday and today I have been working on the chair and the wooden table in this painting, and I'm really happy with how they're shaping up, despite having spent a relatively small amount of time on them. It's so much easier to gesture towards texture, volume and pattern than it is to render it accurately! 

Mary work in progress

Submitted by Sam on 6 December, 2012 - 00:56

27 hours of work done on my new oil painting. I have spotted some proportional errors that I need to correct, but this shouldn't take too long. I love how much freedom oils give to revise shapes, colour and tone - much more forgiving than working in pencil, where too much rubbing-out or lines drawn too heavily would ruin the paper.

Tomorrow I'm going to buy a very fine brush so that I can add the detail I want to the face and hair.

New oil painting

Submitted by Sam on 3 December, 2012 - 00:25

I have started a new piece, with just under one month to go until the end of my 1000 hours project. I don't think I'll finish it this year, but I'll try! It is going to be a 40x30" oil painting of my Great Auntie Mary. It's great to be working in colour again after so long working in pencil. Here's where I'm at after 15 hours of work.

Art is never finished, only abandoned

Submitted by Sam on 30 November, 2012 - 01:14

I can see a few areas in this that I might return to in the future to alter and touch-up, but for now, it's finished! I need some time away from working on it to see clearly what needs doing.

Jess and the work-in-progress portrait

Submitted by Sam on 6 September, 2012 - 23:51

Slow but steady progress

Submitted by Sam on 30 July, 2012 - 22:39

Since the last update, progress seems to have been slow. I lost a lot of time trying to get a smooth gradient in the upper left, which for some reason proved surprisingly difficult. I've moved on to the more complex areas recently, and feel like every few strands of hair I define has been making a marked improvement to the overall piece. I'm looking forward to having blocked-in the whole hair, then working in some highlights using an eraser.

Imagemagick PDF -> image on windows error

Submitted by Sam on 15 June, 2012 - 22:18

I resolved the following error when using ImageMagick 6.7.7-4 to convert a PDF to an image on Windows 7 by updating the Ghostscript libraries for Windows from here

Unrecoverable error: rangecheck in .setuserparams Operand stack: --nostringval-- --nostringval-- --nostringval-- START 0 2588256 1246516 1476808 192904 true 1138 5 END PROCS 2 2588256 1257815 1476808 194288 true 1137 5 4 2608352 1263870 1496904 199000 true 1137 5 4 2608352 1266053 1496904 199000 true 1137 5 END FONTDIR/ENCS 5 2608352 1266231 1496904 199000 true 1137 5 END DEVS 5 2611856 1273263 1496904 199000 true 1137 5 END STATD 7 2611856 1280419 1496904 200624 true 1137 5 END GS_FONTS 8 2641800 1309593 1496904 200624 true 1138 5 END BASIC COLOR 9 2661896 1319482 1496904 200624 true 1136 5 END LEVEL 1 COLOR 10 2661896 1321210 1496904 200624 true 1136 5 END IMAGE 10 2661896 1324512 1496904 200624 true 1136 5 11 2661896 1327954 1496904 200624 true 995 4 12 2661896 1329299 1496904 200624 true 995 4 12 2661896 1331306 1496904 200624 true 995 4 13 2681992 1336184 1496904 200624 true 995 4 While reading %%[ Error: invalidaccess; OffendingCommand: put ]%% START 572646 2736608 1402073 1496904 202880 true 999 7 END PROCS 572647 2756704 1416708 1496904 204264 true 997 7 572648 2756704 1419435 1496904 205648 true 997 7 572648 2756704 1421618 1496904 205648 true 997 7 END FONTDIR/ENCS 572649 2756704 1421796 1496904 205648 true 997 7 END DEVS 572649 2760208 1428828 1496904 205648 true 997 7 END STATD 572650 2780304 1439312 1496904 207272 true 997 7 END GS_FONTS 572651 2800400 1466808 1496904 207272 true 997 7 END BASIC COLOR 572652 2820496 1476697 1496904 207272 true 995 7 END LEVEL 1 COLOR 572652 2820496 1478425 1496904 207272 true 995 7 END IMAGE 572653 2820496 1481727 1496904 207272 true 995 7 572654 2820496 1485169 1496904 207272 true 995 7 572654 2820496 1486514 1496904 207272 true 995 7 572655 2820496 1488521 1496904 207272 true 995 7 572655 2820496 1490071 1496904 207272 true 995 7 While reading %%[ Error: invalidaccess; OffendingCommand: put ]%% </code?

180 hours - Portrait update

Submitted by Sam on 7 June, 2012 - 00:32

I'm about 180 hours in to this pencil portrait. I have spent a lot of time in the past month adjusting the darkness of the apron in order to give the shadows the intensity that they need.

Since the last update, I have also made an attempt at the hair, which is phenomenally intricate. It's going to take a long time to get right!

Overview of Jess portrait - 6th June

I have been using a 5B to make the darkest shadows as black as possible. 

Apron detail from Jess portrait - 6th June

Reading real books aloud using free software

Submitted by Sam on 1 June, 2012 - 17:47

I like to listen to audiobooks and podcasts whilst I draw, but I'm running out of books on my reading list which have audio editions. I hate reading from a book knowing that I could be doing something else at the same time if only it was in another format, so I am exploring ways to create my own audiobooks using text-to-speech software.

If a digital version of the book is available, it is quite trivial to get a screenreader to narrate it. The Amazon Kindle 2 has native support for reading text aloud, and Amazon also provide similar functionality in their Kindle app for Windows, through a very nice accessibility plugin. It can automatically turn the pages of the ebook, and reads in two surprisingly-listenable synthesized voices at a range of speeds.

When a digital version of the book is not available (which is often the case with the books I'm interested in), then the only option is to digitize from a paper copy. To have a computer read a book aloud page by page would require the following sequence of steps:

  1. Capture a digital image of the current page
  2. Process the image using optical character recognition software to extract the text
  3. Read the text aloud using text-to-speech software
  4. Turn the page and start the process again

I have written a very small batch script which chains together calls to several pieces of open-source software to fulfil the first three steps in this process, and have a rather basic system which can read a page of text from a book with a tolerable level of accuracy.

In my setup, I place a book on a flat surface, pull a lamp down to light it as evenly as possible, mount a camera on a tripod over it, connect to the camera from a computer, and process the image using image magick and tesseract, and read it out with espeak.

I am currently using my Android phone to capture images as it happened to be the quickest to tether to my computer (using the IP Webcam app for Android), but the whole setup could very easily be tailored for use with a tethered digital camera, perhaps using the remote control capture features of gphoto. I intend to connect my Nikon D5000 and my Nikon D70 in future, as these will provide much better image quality for the text recognition software to work with.

I have developed the book reader on Windows 7 so far, but all of the software I use is cross-platform. 

Software I used:

  • Wget for Windows
Download the Setup option, e.g. "wget-1.11.4-1-setup.exe"
Run the setup to install 

  • Image Magick for Windows 

Download the self-installer, e.g. "ImageMagick-6.7.7-5-Q16-windows-dll.exe"
Run the setup to install 

  • Tesseract-OCR for Windows
Download the Windows installer, e.g. "tesseract-ocr-setup-3.01-1.exe"
Run the setup to install 

  • Espeak for Windows
Download the zip compiled for Windows, e.g. ""
Extract the zip e.g. C:\Program Files\espeak

I use the following example script to tie it all together (I saved mine as "speak.bat"):

@echo off
call "C:\Program Files\GnuWin32\bin\wget.exe" http://{IP OF ANDROID WEBCAM SERVER}:8080/photoaf.jpg
call "C:\Program Files\ImageMagick-6.7.7-Q16\convert.exe" -density 150x150 -compress none photoaf.jpg photoaf.tiff
call "C:\Program Files\Tesseract-OCR\tesseract.exe" photoaf.tiff booktext -l eng
call "C:\Program Files\eSpeak\command_line\espeak.exe" -v en -f booktext.txt

This batch script uses wget to request an image from the IP Webcam Server running on the Android phone (the phone's IP needs to be filled in the {}), saves it as 'photoaf.jpg' in the folder where the batch file is running from, passes the jpg to image magick to convert in to a Tiff (compression must be disabled for tesseract to read it correctly), gives the tiff to tesseract for processing, then reads the resulting text file using espeak.

Here is a video of the results so far:

As I say in the video, I think the accuracy can be improved by using a better camera and better lighting, and I will be looking at ways to automate turning the page after it has been read. A great resource for the kinds of design problems I can anticipate is, which is a community of people who have made software and hardware to digitize books. 

Portrait progress after Easter

Submitted by Sam on 9 April, 2012 - 22:11

I have spent another 25 hours on my pencil portrait, and still haven't rendered a single part of it to a finalized state. I'm happy with where it is going, but progress is slow. A1 really is big, and even 45 hours of work gets stretched thin!

Pencil portrait progress: Jess in Apron - 45 hours

Below is the detail of the apron. Whilst it looks patchy here, it comes together nicely when viewed at a distance. I intend to shade everything as carefully and as accurately as I did in my Bargue plates, which will ensure the finished picture looks good even when viewed up close.

Detail - Pencil portrait progress: Jess in Apron - 45 hours: A1 pencil portrait after around 45 hours of work. No part is 100% done yet, I still feel like I'm just sketching in the base layer!

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